Thursday, July 29, 2010

Roos to Hiroshima: Too little too late for some

Just saw on NHK news that Ambassador Roos will visit Hiroshima on August 6 to commemorate "all the victims of WW2." The Japan Times reports it here, without reporting Roos' "all victims" statement.

One older lady, questioned during the obligatory "man-on-the-street-interview" said "It's a little late isn't it, for the American Ambassador to come?"

In anticipation of the soon to be in full swing annual remembrance (and selective, but often generous forgetfulness of preceding/concurrent/following events) of the atomic bombings of those two cities, I thought a little review of the circumstances might be helpful:

(It seems I cannot embed the 2-hour video at American Experience, but Victory in the Pacific is here and the transcript here. It gives a little taste of the atmosphere of those times.)

Sitting in my nice chair in an air conditioned room 55 years after the fact with information that Truman and the rest of the government did not have at the time, it is easy for me to judge the bombings as unnecessary, inexcusable in the targeting of a civilian populations, and worse. However for those in power in 1945 who wanted to end the war and for those who were expecting to be part of the invasion force to defeat Japan (and die, be maimed, or perhaps to endure the hell of being a POW if not executed outright) such judgments may have been a bit harder to reach.

But I would say to the lady with the complaint: I regret that the visit to Hiroshima by the US Ambassador has not turned out to be as early as it could have been and that you are not pleased. And I would ask her that if she thinks there is anything that Japan might be a little late in doing that it should do now so that we can all begin to put WW2 in the past.

Oh, I enjoyed Clint Eastwood's movie Letters from Iwo Jima. Am awaiting a similar movie from Japan's movie industry. Pride does not count. (A stolen thought, but I enjoyed it so much that I feel no guilt about the theft.)

Note the comment left on the NYT review (linked above) of Pride:
This is not an entertaining film or anything but I would like to give 5 stars because the filmmakers took a risk of getting criticized badly by foreign journalists and Japanese left wings. Please don't get mad at the film just because it portrays the truth that was told in the court. Films like this should be seen more instead of what Japan did wrong in the war. It didn't hit the box office abroad because they don't want to give a chance for Japan to explain about the war. Japan has to be the bad one because they lost the war.

I wouldn't call myself an educated man. Daydreamed through the 8th-11th grades. Finished university after the USAF on one of the versions of the G.I. Bill. Even had to spend the first year or so at a community college. Still, I thought I knew a few things until September of 2008 when I learned that I didn't know squat about the way the world works. I realized that I was an idiot and that I would never be like those who can confidently predict the future and know the way to solve the world's problems. I mean, I ain't no Nobel Prize winner like Paul Krugman. (They don't give those things out for nothing, you know.) Plus, I am an American which as everyone knows is the most poorly-educated group on earth. Why, just a week or so ago, there was more hand-wringing in the US over the fact that fewer US students were graduating from universities despite the absurdly inflated costs of doing so. What the hell, put the poorer of them in the military and send 'em to well-off foreign lands to "preserve freedom."

Fortunately, I now live in a country which is ideal for an idiot because of the ability to learn from the highly educated populace. I learn something new and valuable nearly every day. It could be a trivial thing like I learned Monday: People in Osaka walk faster than people in any other city on earth while folks in NY walk second fastest, and those in Tokyo walk third fastest. And here I had been thinking that most people in Tokyo walked at about the pace of a dead snail that is reading email on a cell phone. Stoopid me.

Or it could be something breathtaking and potentially world changing.

Tuesday started as a normal day. I had been given my usual Tuesday task of gathering information about some sort of puzzling New-Think, this time concerning Red Ocean/Blue Ocean. This had apparently been the subject of a popular 2005 business book which I had not read nor even heard of. These small details would not stop me from finding out as much as I could about the subject in 3-4 hours and then pretend I had a clue of what I was talking about.

Fortunately, I found an interview with the authors in which they clearly explained the concept:

We use the terms red oceans and blue oceans to describe the market universe. Red oceans are all of the industries in existence now... ...Blue oceans, in contrast denote all industries not in existence today...

I cut a little, but the above should be sufficient to prompt most to run out and either buy the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, or jump from a tall building. My understanding is that a good "blue ocean strategy" company will try to find customers and markets by thinking outside the box, throwing out the Old-Think, and establishing a new paradigm---all very unusual for a cutting-edge business book.

Oh, to the point of this post...

Later, I got to chat with a fellow whose major had been economics. He is now a fairly high level executive---shall we say in the top level of his organization which is one of the largest in his industry. We talked economics, as he is wont to do when he is not detailing some unique character traits of the Japanese (which seem incredibly commonplace to an uneducated flunky) and how the current environment is affecting his industry and company. For an international company heavily dependent on imported raw materials, the increasing demand for those raw materials is pushing up prices and eliminating profits.

Then he let me in on what may be a secret. There is sort of a cartel controlling prices on these raw materials. It involves a number of foreign countries, including one in South America in which a minority of folks are of European descent. (1-2%, according to him.)

This was interesting. We had discussed this before, but not in such detail. The way he was talking, I began to suspect the Illuminati, but after beating around the bush a bit, he told me: The Jews!

Oh yes, I should have known! It seems many here take for granted the "theory" that to some degree or another Jews control the US, or tend to believe in a general Jewish conspiracy to control the world, but this was the first that I had heard that they controlled a major raw materials market.

Later, as dim-witted and poorly educated as I---and all other Americans (meaning only the US in this case)---am, I began to get an idea. I don't know why I am the only one to think of this, but I may have solved not only my problems, but Japan's and perhaps the rest of the world's. With so much of the world's power and money in the hands of Jewish people, why not convert to Judaism? It may be immoral if one is not sincere, but it would seem to be a pretty simple way to resolve financial worries. I could certainly use the power and influence that this small percentage of the world's population is rumored to have, too. It may even make me more welcomed by some here.

And the risk of an aimless, goalless, thoughtless, clueless leadership class leading the country to the Fujiwara-ian glory of the past of poverty and hardship for all except the powerful elites? Could not Japan convert to Judaism and take advantage of that power and wealth? Isn't there some evidence that Japanese are actually Jewish anyway?

I feel honored that I may have stumbled into the secret of solving all the world's problems in a discussion with a man who, without a doubt, represents one of the most well-educated classes in the country. Not only that, I got to experience that mysterious Eastern wisdom which has been handed down through the generations, and which, despite the fact that we are in roughly the same age group, makes me feel like I was born yesterday while he has the accumulated knowledge of a zillion years.

Whereas these sorts of Jewish conspiracy theories would not be considered acceptable in many other countries, and might be taken as a sign of ignorance or even antisemitism, we can't use that sort of Old-Think about subscribers to the theories in Japan. Things are different here. It's all harmless and innocent. Sort of a quaint and cute provincialism. By the way, my acquaintance is very polite and seems a nice guy. So how could anything be wrong?

*From the 1989 TV mini-series, Lonesome Dove. I think ol' Gus would have saved a lot on powder, balls, and caps for his Walker Colt had he left the plains of Texas and Montana for my current neck of the woods.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

TIME declares time running out for Japan

The country is probably at yet another crossroads.

Sometimes Japan seems to be on the wrong continent. Everywhere else in Asia, from Shanghai to Mumbai to Jakarta, there is an aura of perpetual motion, a sense that tomorrow will be better than today. The region is on a frenetic 365-day-a-year hurtle into a brighter future. Japan once shared Asia's dynamism and mission. But not anymore. Today, Japan is an island of inertia...TIME

Time, the magazine which seems to me to always blow things way out of proportion, has published a new story on Japan. A read through it reveals little that anyone paying attention doesn't already know (with only a few quibble worthy points on first read), and tends to make one want to abandon ship. Being an optimist here is not something one can achieve while sober.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I wanna go Stateside

It has been a tough week. I am not talking about the wonderful experience of riding sardine cans full of people. That might even be fun sometimes if some sweet young thing would snuggle up agin' me, but I always get middle-aged or older salarymen who seem to lose any fear of foreigners when it comes to getting within smooching distance.

I am not talking about trying to walk down a sidewalk without being hit by a self-centered, negligent fool on a bicycle. Nor am I talking about watching someone dawdle in 7-11 closely examining the final item of a 37.5 item purchase + bill paying until they see me start to move to the register with my single item and then rush to get there first. And I don't even consider being a victim of vehicular assault while attempting to use a crosswalk unusual.

No, I am not talking about the folks here. I am talking about the comment I read that some lady from overseas left on a photo on flicker. Seems a fellow had unknowingly committed a faux pas while doing bird photography and was approached by a birder and gently admonished. The comment read something like "I have been to Japan and was treated very politely. It is good to see that the good manners extend to animals too."

I would like to put my head in an oven, but all I have is a microwave. How is it possible that people can lose all common sense when it comes to things Japanese. Really, I do not believe the woman could possibly be as silly as her comment. How do the dolphins of Taiji feel, I wonder?

Been here too long.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ten long sentences

Richard Katz of The Oriental Economist, and Naomi Fink of UFJ Bank were asked to write five sentences in answer to two questions concerning Japan's national debt and its assets and and they responded with one of the most informative dialogs I have read on these topics. You can read this over at Shisaku, should anyone not have already done so.

One particularly interesting fact in the post---only because PM Kan had planned to cut Japan's corporate tax from the 40% current rate---is that only one-third of Japan's corporations pay any corporate taxes and the actual tax rate is closer to 26%.

The OECD has recommended lowering the tax while increasing the base (corps actually paying taxes) and in this OECD Observer article stated that increasing indirect taxes (eg consumption taxes) taxes has had a "less negative" effect on economies in OECD countries than increasing income taxes.

Anyhow, not directly connected to the Shisaku post, but maybe ol' Kan was close to being onto something before he got his head handed to him on Sunday. Perhaps if he had done a little better job of explaining his tax plans, and had any sense of timing, and had not assumed that his party was immune to what happened after the last two consumption tax increases, and had guessed that just because people may believe a tax increase is needed sometime in the future that it doesn't necessarily mean that they want one soon (i.e. while they are still living), and....well, let's just say that we might have been spared the spectacle of the LDP appearing to rise from the grave. They haven't really, of course, since when the sun comes back out, they'll realize that nobody believes they have an answer for anything and they'll sooner or later be heading back underground.

By the way, as usual with things economic, one can easily find an opposing point of view. Here is one concerning the wisdom of corporate tax cuts:

The conventional wisdom is that it is primarily small economies that feel compelled to cut corporate taxes in order to attract foreign investments–Ireland and a handful of the newest EU members are often put forward as examples of this–but it is actually some of the largest economies in the world that have lost most tax revenue from corporations over the last decades. Most notably, between 1970 and 2003, corporate taxation as a share of total taxation dropped by 51% in Japan and by 39% in the US and in Germany.

Yet at the same time corporate profits are booming and wages are stagnating. After-tax profits in the US are, as a proportion of GDP, at their highest in 75 years, and in the euro area and Japan they are also close to 25-year highs.

Wages, on the other hand, are making up an ever smaller part of national income, down from 68% in 1982 to 59% in 2005 in the 15 EU members. And at 56.9% in the US in 2005, they are, except for a brief period in 1997, at their lowest level since 1966. Kristian Weise, of The International Trade Union Confederation at OECD Observer

This wage stagnation thing seems somewhat familiar. Thank goodness for deflation.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


I don't think these guys (Congressman Barney Frank et al) are allowed to write this sort of thing:

Immediately after World War II, with much of the world devastated and the Soviet Union becoming increasingly aggressive, America took on the responsibility of protecting virtually every country that asked for it. Sixty-five years later, we continue to play that role long after there is any justification for it. Huffington Post

Given that every incremental federal dollar spent today is being financed with borrowed funds, maintaining that collection of overseas bases results in a perverse daisy chain of borrowing from foreigners,* spending those borrowed funds overseas then sending never-ending interest payments back overseas as we roll over that debt again and again. (Letter to the National Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform by Rep. Barney Frank, Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Ron Wyden, Rep. Walter B. Jones Linked PDF from the above Huffington Post)

I have read that Okinawa was mentioned somewhere by Reps Frank and Paul, but can find no direct reference to it. (Edited to add: Here is one.)However, wouldn't it be nice if Americans and Japanese---the people, not just the governments and the "experts"---would get a chance to look at this and debate it and force those "in the know" to explain exactly why forces at the present level and configuration are still necessary in 2010, and to explain what would indicate that they would no longer be necessary at some point in the future?

No, I am not on drugs; I am merely fantasizing.

NPR's On Point is to broadcast an discussion on the military spending issue with Ron Paul and Barney Frank today (audio not up yet.)

Note that they are not talking about cutting expenses on the backs of those in Iraq and Afghanistan, but questioning the continued need for 480 US military installations in 38 countries.

*Ironically, one of the recent justifications given for the need to have US troops in Japan is the----how shall I put it?---the rising China threat. China is one of our biggest creditors, so we are borrowing from China and paying interest on that debt to China, in order to defend against China. Wonder if China would demand higher interest should the the US get into a conflict with them? Or would the US just stop borrowing from China and fund the conflict some other way? Oh, wait....did I say fund a conflict, meaning something like pay for it without borrowing from foreigners? Sorry, maybe I am on drugs.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

So what's the point again?

Oh, there is an (upper house) election today. That's what all those signs are about, and for those unfortunate enough to live near a station, what all the screaming through loudspeakers by candidates was about.

The early results from NHK (very early, most based on exit polls IF I am not mistaken) is interesting only because of the performance of the new Your Party which is a strong number four (corrected 9:24pm) so far---5 seats to the New Komeito's 7.

According to exit polls, those who opposed a consumption tax increase voted roughly equally between the DPJ and LDP. That's not a surprise I suppose, since the 10% figure was floated by both. Support for the tax increase was closely split too, with those opposing the increase only a few percentage points ahead of those opposing.

Michael Cucek, of Shisaku (required reading for anyone interested in Japanese politics) has written an essay for The Diplomat which is more interesting than the actual election titled Japan's Meaningless Election:

[Addressing pre-election polls showing about a third of voters undecided] "the failure of 3 out of 10 Japanese voters to have made up their minds is down to one simple fact—the election has no meaning, or at least its meaning has changed so many times over the past few months and weeks that a reasonable person could well be asking what they’re actually voting for."

I am glad that I don't have to make that voting decision as I would find it easier to explain what I was voting against than for.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

In a nutshell

The most succinct, accurate analysis of Japan politics I've seen in a while. Quoted from a Martin Fackler article in the NYT, of all things.

“Something ended when the L.D.P. lost,” said Koji Kubota, 74, a retired post office worker who listened on a recent afternoon to a candidate’s stump speech, “but no one is sure what comes next.”

Gerald Curtis notes in the same article that this is "a period of creative destruction and the destructive phase is not yet over."

Friday, July 09, 2010

We never asked

for Armchair Asia's opinion, but it's always valued, informative, and interesting:

Saying nothing, ignoring complaints, and “looking forward,” is a very Japanese tactic to avoid responsibility and confrontation.

Why does that ring so true both personally and professionally?

Armchair Asia's July 9 post, Unforgiven,* concerns apologies and the continued lack thereof for the use of American POWs during WW2 by a number of major Japanese corporations.

Some may recall one of the companies, Mitsubishi, even denied in court that there was any forced labor in at least one of their mines (this specifically concerning Chinese slave labor):

...the Mitsubishi defense team has crossed a Rubicon of historical revisionism by denying that any forced labor occurred at its Fukuoka coal mines. More audaciously still, the company based these denials on its own 1946 site reports and the fact that Occupation authorities never brought CFL war crimes charges against it. Japan Focus (How's your Nikon working? Nikon wouldn't be part of the Mitsubishi group would it? Oh well, the war's long over anyway, isn't it? When's the new D700X coming out?)

This is all a shock as I just read an article by a learned Japanese PhD in which he claimed that Japan needs to tout its higher moral ground in WW2 to win friends and influence people today. His cute little article also shows just why WW2 is NOT over for some in this country, including some who could be mistaken for reasonable and maybe even cosmopolitan.

More on that later.

*There are links in the Unforgiven post worth reading as well.

2142: Edited for semi-clarity.


I tried to edit my Japan links list and deleted all of them. It will take a while to get them back. Should I miss any, please remind me. Note that "undo edits" like a lot of functions on blogger do not works. It's ok though as it's free and worth every yen.

Oh, I hate, I truly hate, blogger. Gonna have to bite the bullet and move on. Oh, I effing despise blogger. On top of everything else, its spelling is even worse than mine.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Controversial in Arizona, hunky-dory in Japan

Racial profiling had never struck me as a personal issue. I am a Japanese woman living in Japan after all, where less than 2 percent of the population is foreign....

...I was stunned by the officer’s blatant profiling of me... [she believes it was based on her being a bit taller than the average Japanese woman which led some of Tokyo's finest to suspect that she might be a non-Japanese.]

...“The same thing as in Arizona has been in place in Japan for a long time without much criticism,” says my cousin and lawyer Genichi Yamaguchi. NYT/IHT 7 July 2010 Op ed.

Ms. Makihara goes on to state that most Japanese don't know about the racial profiling that goes on as a rule in Japan and wonders just how much anyone would object.

She continues with some indications that Japanese may be becoming less willing to try to understand anything beyond Japan's borders. Some not-so-generous people would wonder how that would be possible since most of the past attempts to understand seem to be as much about reaffirming the uniqueness of the Japanese (or selling cars and radios) than a real attempt to understand others as humans of the same species.

Ms. Makihara plans to protest the next time that she is stopped that such behavior is racial profiling. I wonder how the couple of fellows from Down Under who occasionally write columns for the Japan Times in support of discrimination and bigotry would respond to Ms. Makihara. Would they explain that this is being done for her safety?

By the way, one of those fellows was writing a book about what the world could learn from Japan (the usefulness of discrimination based on race, ethnicity national origins?), but as eagerly as I have awaited it, I have not found it yet. Wonder what happened?

If that is not enough, the troublesome foreigner---oops! Can't say that as he's a Japanese citizen---Debito Arudou has penned another article at the Japan Times (perhaps to be rebutted by one of the above mentioned apologists for bigotry soon) concerning the long-time and apparently never-ending illegal refusal of service to non-Japanese by many hotels in Japan. Tyler Brule, when are you gonna visit one of those and let the well-heeled know about that kind of wonderful Japanese service?

(My understanding of the law in Arizona is that it is not nearly as broad as what exists in Japan now.)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Nobelist Obama's radical new Japan policy

OK, It's not really brand new:

The United States has asked Japan to help shoulder hundreds of millions of dollars in additional fees to transfer Marines from a controversial base on Okinawa island to Guam, Kyodo news agency reported. USA Today

It's all cool. The poorly informed will still be able to blame the continued problems with Okinawa bases on the folks in the US military there. (Of course, we know that SOFA personnel have much lower crime rates than citizens of Okinawa.*)

*Concerning the linked article about SOFA crime rates, the author notes that on base stats are not covered. Having been a military policeman, I'd guess that unless the world has turned upside down, that on-base crimes and incidents are much, much lower than the civilian population. I see no reason it would be different here, unless one disproves the Hassett article---and others with similar findings over the years.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Let's pray for the poor rightists

who were arrested in Yokohama today when they tried to break into a theater showing the dangerous, one-sided, "anti-Japanese" film, The Cove. The rightists hate one-sided movies, news programs, and so on. I pray that none were injured in the attempt to hide something that they haven't the courage to allow people to see.

Michael Moore is damned lucky he ain't making his type of movie about Japan, although he does not know that.

(Cannot find a link yet, the information is from TV news.)

9:16PM: AFP story here, but no information on arrests. Seems that folks want to see it for themselves before making up their minds, something the nutters apparently dread.

July 4, 830pm. I have found no reports on the arrests to link to in either Japanese or English. Makes me wonder if I misunderstood NHK. I listened to the English subchannel, not the Japanese so I hope I can at least still understand English.

Foreign trainee voluntarily works self to death

just as his kindly company president was about to reduce his overtime and spread the labor to others. The unnamed president of Fuji Denka Kogyo may even have planned to pay the late Jiang Xiaodong (31) for his overtime work. Unfortunately, Jiang refused the offer to work less and died of cardiac arrest. It couldn't be helped. Nobody could expect the company president to require an employee to do anything.

Some mean people have accused the government of lax oversight of the slavery intern system. This, of course, could not be accurate.

Story in English at Japan Times.


isn't it:

The Japan which Aya Okabe presents in her work is perhaps too familiar to those who live there and not nearly Japanese enough for those who don’t. Japan Exposures

Where are the geisha?

Friday, July 02, 2010

The SONY timer

The Sony timer: that thing which is included at no extra cost with every Sony product sold in Japan and causes the product to fail just as the warranty expires. I never knew this feature existed until a Japanese guy explained it to me years ago. I had thought that Sony simply manufactured junk.

1000 Things about Japan: Won't miss #191.

Oh and cover your ears, there' some cussing and cursing in this Onion news report. (Yes, a repost, but I've nothing else ready to post at the moment. Disgustingly immature.)

Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work